Responding in the Opposite Spirit

My first home health appointment earlier this week was a woman only 4 years older than me that had undergone a below knee amputation, multiple toe amputations, and had already had a stroke causing hemiparesis all before the age of 40. 

She stumbled to the door groggy, and ushered me in. Her breasts hung out of her low cut skinny top and she made no move to cover herself. My job that day was to do a re-assessment visit and recertify her after her most recent hospital stay.  I thought to myself “OK, this is how it’s gonna get done-breasts hanging out and all,” and began the paperwork, unphased. 

I began by asking her how she was feeling and taking her vitals. I started asking her some questions about her health history and her previously groggy and apathetic apparence snapped and her eyes cut into mine as she screamed, “I will NOT go through all that again. I won’t. I’ve been through that a million times. I don’t feel like doing that!” Her sudden shift in demeanor caught me off guard and I attempted to explain how even though she may have gone over that information with other clinicians before, I didn’t have that information available to me at the time. 

Before becoming a home health physical therapist where I regularly encounter individuals and situations like this my knee jerk reaction to such a situation would be to be rude in return. I felt someone’s anger or frustration pointed towards me completely justified me to point it right back towards them and deal right back to them the same hand that they delt. This inevitably would lead to an escalation of anger and frustration being thrown back and forth between the two of us. 

It sounds so incredibly simple, but I’ve learned to respond to people who are being rude to me in the opposite spirit; I’ve learned to respond in love. Nearly every time an amazing thing happens when I respond in love no matter how someone treats me: there’s an inevitable softening, a de escalation of the situation, and the person snaps back to being their pleasant self. Responding in a like manner the situation escalates, and responding in the opposite spirit almost always has the power to change the situation for good. 

I should know this. Isn’t this the way of Jesus? Turn the other cheek. Forgive not seven times but seven times seventy. The teachings of Jesus are remarkably simple and incredibly difficult to live. And I’m convinced He will always give us these difficult people, these ones who are hard to love, to give us practice in the way of Jesus and allow us to become more like Him. 

When we accept the invitation to love those who are difficult to love we become more like Him and allow ourselves to become His hands and feet to a hurting world. 

How can we practice responding in the opposite spirit in our lives together?


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